Beginning on the slopes of a live volcano, this ride reveals varied natural and human history on its winding, often remote path to the sea.
A snowcapped and occasionally smoking volcano signals the start of this epic ride across an otherworldly plateau and alongside a deep wilderness river to the Tasman Sea coast. It’s a journey rich in natural and cultural heritage, featuring such memorable sights as an old cobbled coach road, towering bluffs, the Bridge to Nowhere and the mystical Whanganui River.
Completing the full Mountains to Sea trail enjoyably requires good planning, favourable weather, reasonable fitness and off-road cycling skills. Riders lacking in any of these departments can readily break the journey into shorter, easier rides, particularly around the Central Plateau.
The trail’s first sections, in particular, lend themselves well to day-trips. Riders can start in Ohakune, followed by the Ohakune Old Coach Road, a fantastic half-day adventure following an historic route through native forest. A restored 294m viaduct presents an exceptional photo opportunity.
It’s an interesting and occasionally hilly 50km rural trek to the Mangapurua Track, an intermediate, 5–7 hour mission through the wilds of Whanganui National Park. The trail wends through a remote valley dotted with long-deserted and overgrown pioneer farms, past lofty bluffs and across ravines before reaching the Bridge to Nowhere, a monument to the power of nature.
The trail runs out at Mangapurua Landing on the banks of the Whanganui River, requiring a 32km jetboat ride to Pipiriki where riders get back in the saddle. Along this remote stretch of river, however, there are two campsites and a lodge in which to stop the night.
Pipiriki signals the start of the Whanganui River Road section, an undulating 5–7 hour journey boasting incredible river views and heritage sites, both Māori and European. It ends at the village of Upokongaro, from where it’s another 11km to Whanganui and a further 7km to Castlecliff on the Tasman Sea.
Two alternative legs can be factored into the mix – the intermediate Fishers Track which starts in National Park Village and features a cracking downhill through lush hill country, and the advanced Kaiwhakauka Track, a seriously unforgettable 5–7 hour challenge linking with the Mangapurua.
View trail map here.
Most of the Mountains To Sea involves grade 2–3 (easy–intermediate) riding on well-graded, purpose-built trails, along with tarmac and gravel roads.
Happy times on the grade 3 (intermediate) Mangapurua Track, however, are heavily weather dependent. It is no place for novices in the wet, when sticky clay makes it a bike-busting quagmire. The grade 4 (advanced) Kaiwhakauka Track also turns to custard in the wet, with the added challenge of unruly single-track. Regardless of conditions, both tracks should only be attempted by reasonably fit, experienced riders on ship-shape mountain bikes.
The trail is well signposted, but heads into remote country where there is little or no cellphone coverage. Riders should carry a map, basic bike tools, and plenty of food and water. They should also consider taking a personal locator beacon (PLB), available from local visitor centres, and let someone know their intentions before setting off. There are toilets at occasional intervals.
The trail passes through alpine environments and high rainfall areas. Warm clothing and wet weather gear are essential regardless of the forecast. Snow is not uncommon in winter.
Bike hire, shuttles and organised tours are offered by numerous operators around the Central Plateau and Whanganui including Mountain Bike Station, My Kiwi Adventure, TCB, Whanganui River Adventures and Whanganui Tours.
Jetboat trips for the river section should be organised in advanced with Bridge To Nowhere Lodge or Whanganui River Adventures. It’s also possible to hire a kayak to paddle it, the slower pace allowing greater absorption of the river’s awe-inspiring atmosphere.
The main accommodation hubs are Ohakune, National Park Village and Whanganui, but there is other accommodation elsewhere along and around the trail. Accommodation providers partnered with the trail are listed on the official Mountains to Sea trail website.